If your organization is one of the roughly 36% still using Windows 7, according to NetMarketShare, which tracks market statistics for internet tech, it's time to get serious about a Windows 7 migration.
When Microsoft stops supporting Windows 7 on Jan. 14, 2020, it doesn't mean that your computer or network will stop working. Rather, Microsoft will stop releasing security patches and updates, leaving your network vulnerable to malware and other security concerns. For the especially stubborn, Microsoft will sell Windows 7 Extended Security Updates on a per-device basis, with the price increasing each year.
But a Windows 7 migration may turn out to be a good thing for IT admins. The operating system landscape has evolved in the 10 years since Windows 7 was released. Today, the flexibility granted by cloud computing enables organizations to diversify its computing products and allows for more choice and mobility for employees.
The third path
That's how Scott Sanders, CIO at technology consulting and CPA firm Sikich, looks at it. The workforce at Sikich is primarily a Microsoft shop with pockets of Mac and Linux users within marketing and IT. Sanders said Sikich migrated off Windows 7 and implemented Windows 10 roughly two years ago.
"A Windows 7 migration gives organizations a better chance to modernize their workforce," he said.
Scott SandersCIO, Sikich
Indeed, the evolution of cloud infrastructure enables organizations to better manage multiple OSes, depending on a department's need -- something that was much more difficult to accomplish a decade ago. Jamf, an enterprise software management vendor focused primarily on Apple products, outlined in a webinar how this kind of a flexible computing environment could become a reality for companies still on Windows 7.
Dean Hager, CEO at Jamf, said during the webinar that IT admins tend to think a Windows 7 migration means becoming an Apple or a Microsoft shop. He described a third option -- a blended environment of Mac and Windows, based on employee preference.
"In baseball, batters use their own bats, they have their own gloves," he said. "It can be the same [for operating systems]."
It's not only a good thing in sports. In a 2018 survey conducted by Jamf, 68% of the 580 enterprise organizations surveyed said employees are more productive when using technology of their choice.
"IT is transforming and is no longer just a service desk. It's now a retention or productivity tool," said Garrett Denney, solutions architect at Jamf, during the webinar. "Now you can bring users into the process to see their preferences and empower them through choice."
The compatibility issue
But making the decision to support multiple OSes after a Windows 7 migration is much easier than actually implementing this kind of an environment.
Sikich's Sanders pointed to compatibility as the biggest challenge IT admins will face. "The majority of our users are Microsoft-based, but you can have functionality problems when leveraging something built by a competitor," he said. "When we try to lay Microsoft Office or Teams on to the Mac platforms, interoperability issues can come in."
Managed service providers can help build a framework that supports multiple OSes, as can a savvy, up-to-speed IT department like the one at Sikich. A first step Sanders and his team took was to develop an OS roadmap well before Microsoft stopped supporting Windows 7.
"It comes down to communication and knowing your roadmap," he said. "We provided training, so when you drop a new OS on your workforce, they don't get lost."
Supporting multiple OSes has been a boon for Sikich, where employees become excited about using new tools and like being on the forefront of change, Sanders said.